If you are looking for that Old Country charm, and you wish there was a way for you to witness civilizations before they got too busy getting ahead of themselves, you should frequent old villages more. There are sixteen exceptionally charming villages around the world that won’t disappoint you with their cobblestone roads and old-style stone houses. While not exactly medieval (there’s better plumbing, and the people here aren’t clad in high stockings and jumpsuits), these places are sure to give you goose bumps because they have managed to retain so much of their culture from decades, if not centuries ago.
Wengen in Switzerland
Do you ever wonder how the world was before cars were invented? Switzerland’s quaint village called Wengen might just help you realize your dreams. Cars are banned from this area for close to 100 years, and everything looks like it was taken right out of Heidi. Imagine seeing timber all around you, snow peaked mountains, log cabins, and locals who have kept their Swiss culture intact.
If you want the best hotel in area, you should check in at Hotel Bellevue for around $245 a night. It’s a great place for skiers, although those who are uncomfortable going carless for days might not find this destination too attractive. It has been widely celebrated by writers and artists like Mary Shelley back in the 1800s and contemporaries today. The tourist population spikes up during the winter.
To get to Wengen, you need to leave your car at Lauterbrunnen and ride the train to town. The train ride takes about fifteen minutes. There is also a train coming from Interlaken, but the ride takes up to 45 minutes long.
Chimayo in New Mexico
This is a very mystical village which is located at the foot of Sangre de Cristo. It’s about a half an hour’s drive from the more developed Santa Fe, and is known for the “healings” which have occurred at a recently unearthed crucifix. Aside from the tiny miracles which happen in this village, you’ll also love the 1600s architecture of the houses. The community still has a strongly Spanish culture, and is known for its residents’ talents in weaving, raising livestock and farming. You must visit the Santuario de Chimayo chapel which is where these miracles take place. Expect pilgrimages here just before Easter Sunday. The village is also a 75-minute drive from Taos.
Savoca in Italy
If you’re not too familiar with the village of Savoca, perhaps the more iconic Castello di Pentefur would jog your memory. This village is actually rich in historical value. It’s right on top of a hill between Taormina and Messina on the east coast. While there is no clear proof, this village is said to be about 1,000 years old, and is reminiscent of Corleone in the movie The Godfather, but perhaps less crowded. Visit Chiesa di Santa Lucia, the Piazza Fossia for some yummy lemon granita, and the spectacle of mummified monks in the Cappuccini Monastery.
To get here, you will have to rent a car. It’s about an hour’s drive from the Catania Airport. You may also choose the more scenic route from Taormina which takes about 40 minutes. There are plenty of tour companies offering day trips to this village if you don’t mind The Godfather theme.
Sidi Bou Said in Tunisia
This village seems to disappear into the sky and the blue horizon. All the houses are painted stark white, the skies are clear, and the backdrop includes the Bay of Tunis which is only in a deeper shade of blue. This inspired the painter Paul Klee and the writers Simone de Beauvoir and Collete. It’s not surprising that the aura here is a bit bohemian, and it is also home to plenty of thriving cafes and art galleries. The village is 13 miles from Tunis, and could be reached by car or by train. Daytrips are also being offered to this quaint little haven.
Shirakawa-go in Japan
This village is so pretty and so culture-rich that it was declared in 1995 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It’s certainly known for its quaint houses with triangular roofs which seem to resemble hands joined in prayer. This style is called a gassho, and it’s designed to keep snow from piling up on top of houses. The 60-degree slope helps it slide off faster. The attics of these traditional houses are also used to raise silkworms. These houses are iconic in the area but there aren’t many of them left anymore. It’s a good thing most of those which remain are open to the public. Upon seeing the interiors of these houses, you might want to head to Ogimachi Castle for a panoramic view of this village.
Shirakawa-go is a four-hour ride by train from Tokyo. You may also take a bus from Nohi. The trip is around 50 minutes long but you’ll enjoy the scenery on the way.
Eze in France
France in itself is pretty, but its most attractive village is Eze. This community seems to be frozen in time. Despite the cosmopolitanismthat’s happening in Paris, Eze has managed to retain its Old World charm. If you want to see France in a nutshell, this village is the perfect melting pot of cultures because of its proximity to Nice. During the medieval period, it was desired by invaders, and while this was a source of grief for many residents in the past, today the village enjoys its rich, entangled heritage.
The architecture here is so diverse. You will be able to see a 100-year-old Egyptian cross, a bell turret inspired by Genovese architecture, and the Chapelle de la Sainte Croix, which dates back to the 14th century. Walt Disney frequented this town a lot for inspiration when he was still alive.
To get to Eze, simply take a bus from Nice. The ride lasts for 30 minutes. If you’re already in Monaco, the bus ride will only last for 15 minutes.
Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic
This is one of the most ancient villages of the Czech Republic, which means that it also holds a lot of history and culture. The fact that it is surrounded by the Vltva River is only a plus point. This is certainly one of the most scenic places to visit in the country with its Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture. Aside from the well-kept buildings, there are also cafes, art galleries, and charming little bed and breakfast nooks dotting the village. Prague is only about 110 miles away, and you can take the bus from the city to this quaint little charmer. The ride is three hours long but the wait is worth it.
Goreme in Turkey
If you want to see the word’s most beautiful monasteries and cave churches, then you must certainly visit Goreme. This quaint little village went by different names in history, but it’s most known for the “fairy chimney” rock formations in its terrain. In town, which is still surrounded by interesting rocks, you’ll get to see a lot of “pigeon holes” which make for great photographing. While you’re here, you might want to check yourself in at the Kelebek Hotel which is a funky establishment also carved into a cave. You might also want to check out the Uchisar, which is located at the highest point of the valley. This hilltop accommodation offers the best vantage point of the village.
To get to this beautiful village, you will have to fly in from Istanbul to Kayseri. There are shuttle services available from the airport. Transfers to and from hotels may also be arranged.
Bibury in England
This little charmer of a village is located in west-central England, along the River Coln and was once tagged by the writer and visual artist William Morris as the prettiest village in the country. Decades later, this village has managed to retain its honey-tinted stone cottages still in their 17th century design and the quaint charm of its most renowned buildings, some of them dating as far back as the 14th century. The most popular attractions here include the Saxon Church of St. Mary, the Arlington Row, the weaver’s cottages, and a trout farm which has been in operation since 1902.
To get to Bibury, you will have to travel 12 miles from the Kemble train station. You will have to change trains several times from Paddington to get through the 80-mile journey. If you want to take the bus, you will have to get off at Cirencester which is still a good seven-mile journey from Banbury. Unfortunately, there is no direct public transportation from London to this quaint old village. This is probably why it was able to retain much of its Old World beauty.
Molokai in Hawaii
Technically speaking, there are several small villages in Molokai. When last surveyed, though, the island only had about 8,000 residents, so it’s basically just one community. This village is very pretty because it is home to Hawaii’s longest running fringing reef. It is also home to the world’s highest sea cliffs so expect nothing short of magnificent panoramic views.
Unlike the rest of Hawaii, which has become more cosmopolitan, Molokai has retained its rustic charm. You can’t see stoplights anywhere in the island probably because there are very few cars. Those who do have cars also have friendly dispositions so there are almost no road accidents. It is also illegal to build buildings here taller than a coconut tree so you can be sure you will see enough of that clear blue sky. Check out the 12th century style churches, and the Kalaupapa National Park. Take a stroll along its three-mile long beach to go from point A to point B in this island.
Madison in Georgia
Legend has it that General Sherman refused to have this village burned down because it was too beautiful. It is definitely one of the prettiest villages of Georgia, with its boutiques, polished gardens, antebellum homes, and quaint little inns and museums. As with many of the villages mentioned in this article, this place seems to have been frozen in time. It also has a strong African American heritage which makes the area a tad “spicier” than other Old English villages across the USA. You should see the mini-automobile on display at one of the museums as well. It’s a short 60-minute drive from Atlanta, and a shorter 40-minute ride from Athens.
Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada
You can get a taste of Old England when you visit Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was originally a settlement of the Neutral Indian Tribe, but was later on inhabited by British Loyalists at the onset of the American Revolution. As a result, you now have a picturesque village with rich culture and history. Visit the Butler’s Barracks and the restored Fort George. The Niagara Apothecary museum is also quite interesting.
Best of all, this quaint little village is only 80 minutes from Buffalo, New York, and 90 minutes from Toronto, Canada. You might want to schedule your trip during the Shaw Festival (for theater aficionados). This runs from April to October. Make sure you don’t miss out on a stroll along Queen Street.
Pariangan in West Sumatra, Indonesia
Set against the looming Mount Marapi volcano, this village is quite a charmer. It’s surrounded by a lot of hot springs, home to a national monument, and is said to be the most culturally-relevant and oldest village in the country. Make sure you check out the Minangkabau, Indonesia’s iconic pointed-roof traditional houses. The 300-year-old style has houses made with rattan walls and intricate wood carvings. There is also a 19th century mosque in the area. Pariangan is nine short miles from the more developed Batusangkar. If you’re coming from major cities like Jakarta, you need to fly through the Padang airport.
Cua Van in Vietnam
You’ll be amazed at the historical sites and the cobble stone streets of this village. Vietnam’s Cua Van village is definitely one of the most scenic around the world. Admire the majestic lime stone hills of Ha Long Bay, take photos of this floating fishing village and colorful raft houses, and immerse yourself in the rustic lifestyle of Cua Van. To get here, you need to ride the bus from Hanoi. This will take about six hours. From the bay, take a ferry to Cua Van. There are also more luxurious, overnight cruises available to this destination.
St. George in Bermuda
If there’s anything attractive about this village, it’s the fact that very little seemed to have changes since 1612. While the rest of the USA was slowly getting more cosmopolitan and melding into a hodgepodge of cultures, St. George is still largely a British settlement. Don’t let the bars, upscale restaurants, and shops fool you. The architecture here, and historical sites like the St. Peter’s Church, the State House, and the Fort St. Catherine have all been well-preserved. You will feel as if you’ve stepped into a slice of 17th Century America. Take note that the St. Peter’s Church is also the oldest Anglican Church in the West.
Caleta Tortel in Chile
This is considered as Chile’s Venice thanks to its stilt houses and stone bridges. It’s certainly one of the most picturesque spots of the country. The houses are very colorfully painted, you will see a network of footbridges and staircases over marshes as if you’ve stepped into a medieval story book, and there are plenty of pretty cypress trees growing in the area. Timber is still the town’s main industry. The houses are largely made out of wood, and you’ll get to see some crafty designs on the house beams and such. What travelers love here is a sweet and unique smell of cypress, though, which just seem to add to the romance of the area. To get here, you need to fly through Coyhaique. No cars are allowed into the village so you will have to wheel your luggage to their inns and have your cars parked right out of the village’s periphery.
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